Osho (1931-1990) was an Indian philosopher and spiritualist teacher also known by the names Rajneesh and Bhagwan. This post is about “The Essence of Emptiness” , which is the first chapter from Osho’s collection “Take it easy – Talks on Zen Buddhism” from 1979. I have to admit, I don’t really know much about Zen Buddhism, but that doesn’t matter: Much of what Osho describes here reflects, from my point of view, the great challenges of the present. And sometimes it seems to me that Osho’s words might offer a solution. But from the beginning:
In favor of the heart and feelings
The first half of “The Essence of Emptiness” is about opposites: Religion vs. science. Poetry vs. prose. Heart vs. mind. Feeling vs. thinking. And – unsurprisingly – Osho makes a fiery plea for a life that is led from the heart and not from the head. In his opinion, modern man has almost forgotten the language of the heart because it is simply not as useful in busy everyday life as the language of logic, thought, and reason. He quotes Sigmund Freud‘s “The Future of an Illusion”, according to which religion inevitably loses its importance with scientific progress.
But Osho contradicts: “If there is no future for religion, there is no future for man.” And: “Life gathers significance only through the heart.” The famous quote from “The Little Prince” comes to my mind immediately: “One sees clearly only with the heart.“ (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Against the head and the mind
Osho says: “In a rational world, a rose has no beauty – it is just a biological fact.” A person who lives in a world of facts is missing his/her “real life” – he/she cannot feel love and is never completely with himself/herself.
With this, Osho catches me with my pants down: I’ve always been a “head man”. I can’t explain it, but I’ve never been able to let myself go, never turn my mind off. All the more I admire people who can do that. My education, my job – IT specialist, engineer, university lecturer – also fit my mind-driven nature. I quit Church over 20 years ago. Oh dear, I seem to embody everything that Osho denounces in “The Essence of Emptiness”…
Still, I agree with him for the most part: Modern people – I know, I generalize, of course there are exceptions – have forgotten how to see the world with their hearts. They have lost sight of what is beautiful and true on this planet. How else can it be explained that we are destroying the nature of which we once were part of – before we redefined nature as our mere “environment”? That we “use money we haven’t earned to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like?” (Robert Quillen) Sounds funny at first, but it’s actually very, very bitter.
Nature as a religion
As I wrote above: I am not a religious person. But I love nature. And it hurts my heart when I see how people destroy nature – the nature, without which we cannot live on this planet. Sometimes I think nature is my religion. When I replace “religion” with “nature” in Osho’s text, it fits me perfectly: “If there is no future for nature, there will be no future for man.” Man has forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, he subjugated it instead – ok, the Bible says that he should do just that, but I’m sure that wasn’t meant as total exploitation.
The following famous quote from the astrophysicist Hubert Reeves fits the bill perfectly: “Man is the most insane species! He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature. Unaware that this nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.”
Science: crisis driver or savior?
But wait, what’s the role of science here? As a head person, I, too, have to admit: Yes, purely rational, logical thinking has ultimately brought us into the current, existence-threatening situation – climate catastrophe, mass extinction of species, plastic flood, etc. All of this has only become possible through technical progress. But at the same time science is the strongest admonishing force today.
It is not primarily the great world religions warning us that the existence of mankind is at stake (apart from the usual apocalypticists). On the contrary, one has the impression that the proverbial trust in God prevents many people (of course not all) from becoming active themselves in order to avert the catastrophe. There are even religious communities that still deny the existence of man-made climate change. Of course, no fundamental change of heart is to be expected from such a community.
This requires the loud voice of science, which has created countless calculations, models and simulations of how the climate will develop by the end of this century – depending on whether people finally turn things around or not. It is paradoxical: Science as the great “antagonist” of religions has led us into crisis – and is now the loudest voice that is supposed to shake us out of our consumption frenzy and our ignorance.
What do you desire?
Speaking of consumer frenzy, and herewith back to Osho: In the second half of “The Essence of Emptiness” he invites us to return to our origins: “Only the source can be the goal.” So back to the innocence and purity that we still had when we were born – before worldly desires took over us and we lost more and more contact with our inner selves. Osho accuses the religions – with the exception of Buddhism – of having fallen into a trap: They would try not to desire the things of this world. But instead they would have started to desire the things of another world – e.g. eternal life with God in Paradise.
To Osho it makes no difference what the desire relates to. On the contrary, he even accuses religions of being particularly greedy: While “worldly” people strive for perishable things, religions are not satisfied with them – their goal is eternal life. You can see it that way, although I believe that secular and religious people are no longer two separate groups. Rather, it is often the same people who pursue both earthly things (consumption) and unearthly things (“going to heaven”). You just have to look at the current “mask scandal” in the so-called Christian Democratic Union (CDU, the political party of Angela Merkel), where politicians have enriched themselves in anti-virus mask deals.
Off to nowHere – the essence of emptiness
As I said, Osho explicitly excludes Buddhism. The aim of Buddhism is to withdraw deeply into oneself and to recognize one’s own nothingness. Osho says: “You are not, so you have not done anything. All the sins you committed will disappear together with yourself.” I can’t really get used to this thought. It could be seen as a kind of license to commit sins. According to the motto: If you later discover your own nothing, the sins you have committed disappear into nothing. But it is more likely meant that, in the sense of Buddhism, earthly life as such is a sin, which one escapes through deep meditation. As Osho says: “Not to be is virtue, to be is sin.”
And that closes the circle: As a 100% head person, Osho advises me to discover my inner nothingness through meditation – “the essence of emptiness”. How is that supposed to work? Even I understood one thing: Thinking about it is definitely the wrong way to go.
To be continued…
This post about “The Essence of Emptiness” is intended to be the prelude to a series of posts about Osho. In each part I take one of his talks and try to find insights from it for the challenges of the present time. How did I get this idea? Well, for some time now I’ve had the problem that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t find my way back to sleep. Since I am interested in mindfulness, I wanted to at least make good use of the waking time by listening to Osho’s words. That was sometimes extremely interesting and sometimes soporific – both of which were definitely welcome… 😉 In the morning I could often only remember fragments.
But I was always surprised how up-to-date many of the topics mentioned still are. Thus, I have decided to take a closer look and share my thoughts on this with you. I am very much looking forward to your feedback – especially if you interpret Osho’s words differently than I do.
I know that Osho is quite controversial and that some of his statements are rightly criticized. Please let me know if I ever leave a controversial statement too uncritical.